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sexual harassment

What We Really Needed to Hear from Mayim: “It’s Not Your Fault.”

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It’s not your fault.

You weren’t asking for it.

You could not have protected yourself.

It’s not because of what you were wearing.

It’s not because of how you look.

It’s not because of what you did.

It’s not your fault.

That’s where we need to start. Those are the basic principles. That’s the mantra. Repeat it to yourself so you know what to say when someone in your life reveals that she’s been harassed, assaulted, violated, or raped—as we’re seeing all over our social media timelines this week. She needs to hear this. She needs to know that it’s true. She needs to know that you think it’s true.

So to Mayim Bialik (and to Donna Karan, and so many others who rushed to talk about how women dress in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations)—please consider the fact that your words, no matter how well-intended, caused pain.

Understand that even though you know—absolutely in your heart— that it isn’t her fault, the second you start thinking about reasons that other women (including you!) weren’t harassed, assaulted, violated, raped, you are finding reasons why she was.

You may feel the urge to talk about risk reduction. You may want to explain that certain cultures and institutions are highly sexualized, and that you have been (because of what you wear, how you look, what you do) shunted out of that sexualized track, for worse and for better. You may feel like that has protected you.

Maybe it has. Probably it hasn’t. If you escaped being harassed, assaulted, violated, raped, it’s not because you believe you aren’t perceived as a sexual object. It’s not because you keep your sexual self to your self. It’s not because of how you dress, or what you look like, or how you behave in public.

I know this to be true, because women who keep their sexual selves private are harassed all the time.  Women who dress modestly are assaulted every day. Women who behave every which way in public are violated and raped. If you’ve escaped this, you are lucky. But it is not because of what you have done.  If you escaped this, you are unusual. But it is not because you are somehow responsible.

And neither is she, whoever she is. Even if she is beautiful by Hollywood standards. Even if she wears anything – or nothing at all. Even if she is perceived as a sexual object, even if she sexualizes herself (which – so many of us are sexual objects! So many of us choose to sexualize ourselves! This is not an exceptional way of being in the world! And it’s not a dangerous one. Not any more dangerous than any other way of being in the world, because women are harassed, assaulted, violated, raped no matter how they are in the world. Because it isn’t about sex. It never was. It’s about power.)

I know that you know this. I know that you never meant to imply that you weren’t assaulted because you aren’t beautiful, because of how you dress, because of how you are in the world. Except that’s exactly what you wrote.

The flip side is that if you weren’t assaulted for these reasons, than all the other women (so, so many other women) who were assaulted can find reasons in how they look, how they dress, how they are in the world.  How they ought to have been in the world.  Which means that they are in some way responsible for what happened. You didn’t mean to blame the victim/survivors. I know you didn’t. But that’s exactly what you did do.

Please, learn from this.

Instead of calling the people who pointed out the implications of your article (which hurt many people) vicious, understand the gap between your intentions and your execution, and understand the stakes. They are high.

My words here aren’t a “takedown” or an attempt to attack or court controversy—but rather an effort to cultivate a culture of support, and listening, and learning. In this case, you need to listen and learn. Because what you wrote—about your own personal experiences being shunted out of the highly sexualized Hollywood culture—wasn’t supportive at this moment in time.

It was the opposite.

So I need to highlight the very real implications of talking about your personal choices— that we know you very much don’t mean for others to have to follow— and how they offered you protection. Not only is that very likely untrue, it’s disingenuous. It’s dangerous.

The only thing that protects women from harassment, assault, violation, rape, is other people not committing harassment, assault, violation, rape.

Let’s all remember these words to use them the next time. And there will be a next time:

It’s not your fault.

You weren’t asking for it.

You could not have protected yourself.

It’s not because of what you were wearing.

It’s not because of how you look.

It’s not because of what you did.

It’s not your fault.

Even if you are a 10. Even if you aren’t dressed modestly. Even if you are.

It’s not your fault.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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